‘Plant a tree!’ Jillian laughed, her streaky horselike mane of chestnut flying in the early spring breeze. All around her and her sister, Georgia, were luxurious pale green leaves falling softly like stardust, and birds mirroring their joyful cries as they cascaded into the unbelievably baby blue sky. Snippets of song flew on the friendly wind, and perfumed meadows filled with swaying flowers beckoned beyond the playground. Fertility was encompassing this wide green land: the lush, untouched hills and paddocks of grass, the glorious butterflies mating above the new blossoms, the thawing of the beautiful stream. And, as if they were the final touch in a landscape painting, the two sisters were there. As quick as flitting birds in both their movements and speech, they never stayed in one particular spot in the park. Ideas drifted around like falling leaves, sitting next to the meandering stream. And this one seemed like a great activity.
‘Okay’, replied Georgia. She dug through the verdant soil, and found a rich, moist spot sheltered from the blinding sunshine of summer, and the glacial snows of winter. Ever so carefully, Georgia lowered a diminutive bronzed seed in, smiling as she thought that wide branches and sprawling avenues of leaves might cover this place, years later. What would she be like then? she wondered. And Jillian, too?
With that speculative thought in her head, Georgia glanced at her twin sister, wholly believing that she would be making wry yet bubbly comments, smiling at Georgia’s lack of athleticism, but not callously, and giggling as prettily as a baby girl.
But Jillian wasn’t smiling. Or laughing. Not her usual self.
She was pallid and slate grey, one immense drop of sweat dripping down her sweltering forehead, as she wheezed relentlessly for breath.
‘Are you alright?’ hurried Georgia, already preparing their things to wend their way home, back to their family’s farm. ‘If you don’t feel good, we need to get you home, right away.’
Jillian collapsed to the ground, her breaths coming speedily, shallow and unconscious, while clouds wheeled like growing darkness up above, dotting her form with rain, even as the adults descended like the hail.
‘Yes…it’s a truly terrible tragedy, Jillian being bitten by a venomous spider.’
That was the sort of conversation that was being batted around the solemn spectators, who only observed the priest’s directions and shuffled slowly down the aisles. Excruciating dirges and funeral marches played from a rusted, creaking organ, and a velvety black coffin lay pride of place, heaped with eggy small flowers: daisies, always Jillian’s favourites. Sympathy cards and soft toys leaned hazardously just over the rim of the smooth coffin, and they too, speckled with rain from being brought inside on a rainy day, seemed to weep for the girl that lay deceased and spiritless inside.
The funeral was somber and traditional, as it should be, and then the crowd moved onwards towards the graveyard. Gloomily silent, men paraded the shining coffin down through the aisles, like fans holding a crowd-surfer aloft, and they lowered it into fecund soil. One last glimpse and it was gone-Jillian would now rejoin the tree’s roots as they curved deep into the springtime ground.
Georgia tried to hold back the saline tears. They dripped disobediently down her cheeks and onto her impeccable funeral dress-a high, frilly collar, rustling dark petticoats, and interlacing patterns like rolls of string crisscrossing at her waistline. There were gleaming black patent shoes with snow-white socks, lace fluffing out in her sleeves, and her hair was tied back with matching onyx ribbons. Just the sort of formal clothing she hated to wear. But Georgia had to do it-for Jillian. Could she have prevented her sister’s death? Yes, she told herself. And resolved that ten years later, if the seed had grown into an enormous, flowering tree, then Jillian had forgiven her at last.
A serious young woman strode across the muddied emerald plains, all towards the now abandoned playground-Torrens Park, the battered, rain-faded plaque still proclaimed, and the equipment a little disused and musty, but still useful for innocent play. She precisely inspected the vast park in all directions-north, south, east, west-but she didn’t need to: the twisting childhood path came to her as easily as if there had been invisible arrows pointing the way. Here it was. Near the ancient and revered yew trees, past the jade green river clearing that unfurled onto a small puddle of potent sunlight. Like a witch’s spell, the patch of rippling sunshine drew adult Georgia to it; she hesitated and stopped, staring at the bewitching sight of the now fully grown seed. It had strong layers of unpeeled back, soft lime leaves that dropped in a mesmerising flow, and sunlight caught its silhouette perfectly. All sprung from that sapling, filled with so many childish thoughts and dreams.
Their family had moved after Jillian’s death. Couldn’t face the cutting, penetrating memories that sliced through temporary happiness at every corner of their lush farmlands. Moved to a city with a pulsating environment, full of the arts, music, culture, nightlife, and festivals. Established particulate yet all successful lives, together yet apart. Yet she sometimes felt a yawning emptiness in the pit of her stomach, and subconsciously knew that she had gone into a hibernation of the soul, ever since Jillian’s death. All of life was going through the hazy, stumbling motions. Georgia had waited for this day, in the urgent and impatient manner of a student waiting for the final school bell to ring. Now, she had finally awakened.
The sky was an enchanting periwinkle, and again birds whistled and pirouetted in the air, baby chicks crying out for food in an adorable way: spindly little beaks outstretched, all poised for nourishment. How the world had changed, yet kept the same. Only minute alterations that couldn’t blemish the beauty and sacredness of the moment-Georgia felt her heart beating in time with nature’s blissfully relaxed pace. Every cell in her body reignited, feeling the eternal love of forgiveness lighten her initial nervousness. Of course. Jillian’s adoration and love was everlasting; the sisters would always be in each other’s thoughts, not even separated by death’s heavy mantle.
Georgia lifted her palm, touched golden by the sunlight, to reach whatever higher power was there, ensuring that the tree would grow and bloom and thrive, Jillian’s unforgotten forgiveness in every tiny branch. Closed her eyes. Smiled silently. And felt that she was coming out of hibernation at last.